The Uninteresting Chronicles of a High School Student

January 11, 2010

“The College Admissions Scam”: Legitimate Presentation or Sensationalist Rant?

(I really should have posted this yesterday (when the OP-ED in question was published), but eh. Deadlines are meant to be stretched, especially since more important stuff get in the way. Anyways, read it first, since I’ll be jumping around a little bit and it might help to know the context.) In any case, onto the post:

A recent OP-ED, titled “The College Admissions Scam” was published on the Boston Globe, a newspaper known for being the epitome of journalist integrity. The article in question attempts to address a highly controversial and important issue:  the integrity of college admissions. The writer, Neal Gabler, wrote a book about how Jews created the film industry, stars in a film whose title suggests that Hollywood was somehow responsible for the Holocaust, and apparently appears on the completely neutral and factual Fox news.


Gabler in his natural habitat.

OP-EDs are not known for their factual rigor, as the entire purpose of an OP-ED page is to present opinion without reliance on fact. Such a medium of presentation generates strong popular interest because controversial opinions tend to be far more attention-grabbing and powerful than articles abiding by mainstream political correctness. But not everyone knows that. Someone who reads one of these unsourced and opinionated posts will probably take it seriously without a second thought (like half of the people over here, here, and here), completely absorbed by the dogmatic assertions thrown together into a barely stable mess resembling a katamari. Which is very easy to do when information is presented in affiliation with a news source.

The article summary states that “wealth and affluence are more important criteria to[sic] getting into the Ivies”. While this was certainly true back in the 18th century, things happen to change over time, Gabler. We have this thing called Financial Aid now, which means they give money to prospective students for free. Really. As quoted from the MIT site:

  • At MIT, we make all our undergraduate admission decisions without regard to family financial circumstances.
  • We award all our aid based on financial need; and
  • We meet the full need of each student.

Well, if MIT essentially pays you to go there, wealth shouldn’t be a problem, right? Not according to Gabler.

His article begins with a bunch of generalizations about how high school students feel about college acceptance, and then tries to establish a “us vs. them” argument. “They say”. “They know”. “America”. “Our education”. But Gabler, are you really one of “us”, so to speak? Are you someone whose entire future depends on a few sheets of paper sent out in hopes of being recognized amongst a pile of thousands more? You already graduated summa cum laude from U. of Michigan and made a ton of money during your career, so doesn’t it mean you fall under the very same group whom you are attempting to criticize?

The us-vs.-them argument thankfully seems to sto-No, wait, never mind.

“The admissions system of the so-called “best’’ schools is rigged against you. If you are a middle-class youth or minority from poor circumstances, you have little chance of getting in to one of those schools.”

Again, we have this thing called affirmative action which is specifically designed so that people of less fortunate backgrounds or ethnicities would not be discriminated against in the applications process. While male Asians like me get the short end of the stick, it does ensure that people would be considered fairly even if they suffer from a financially unstable background.

(If I recall, there was an anecdote about a poor black student’s acceptance into MIT for his exceptional performance in his district. While his SAT score (~1800) and achievements (or lack thereof) are certainly not even within the “feasible” range of credentials, he was extremely ambitious and demonstrated outstanding effort in his environment, warranting consideration for acceptance. If anyone can find a link to the story, please post it! It’s quite inspiring.)

Gabler then goes on to claim that,

“Of course, colleges loudly deny this since it undermines their exceptionality. Instead, universities will protest that the system is meritocratic; that they consider every applicant objectively.”

Uh, no. Again, MIT openly supports affirmative action, which is beneficial for minorities and students from poorer districts. Gabler, in an attempt to seem credible, cites Daniel Golden’s book whose wikipedia page is shorter than this paragraph. Golden is, unsurprisingly, the only source Gabler ever cites by name in his OP-ED, with other pseudo-credible ones named as “a New York Times article”, “a guidance counselor”, “one admissions officer”, et cetera. Upon realizing that he had not cited more sources and that people might find out that he essentially just summarized Golden’s book, Gabler haphazardly slapped on two figureheads at the end of his article, “professor Jesse Rothstein of Berkeley” and “Professor George Kuh of Indiana University”, conveniently not quoting either and omitting any publications or sources in which their statements appear.

The point in question that Gabler was trying to prove is the positive correlation between wealth and SAT scores. Something along the lines of this:

Then again…

Seriously. The SAT isn’t a “pay-CollegeBoard-more-money-for-a-higher-score” scheme. No matter how many times you take the SAT, if you suck at it, then you suck at it. Correlation doesn’t indicate causation. It doesn’t mean richer families always have high-scoring students. It means that on average, a more well-endowed family is able to educate their child better. Why? Because less financially strained families can afford tutors, books, private schools, and so forth. Their children therefore are generally more educated because they were raised under better conditions. Gabler, for someone whose yearly income is probably enough to cover the expenses of over 100 struggling college students who would really appreciate the help, you certainly seem content with writing articles telling middle-class and poor students how hopeless their futures are, effectively shoving your gold-plated middle finger in their faces while taunting them with the mountain of money on which you placed your soapbox. Very nice job you did there.

Post-script: The fact that poorer students are unable to receive the same materials and opportunities as wealthier students is, indeed, a serious issue. But how should we fix it? Certainly not by accepting less qualified poorer students in favor of a wealthier but generally better student. Imagine if Hilbert got kicked out of Königsberg in favor of a peasant farmer’s child who barely knew algebra. Or if Poincaré couldn’t get into École and had to continue his military service. Instead of asking ourselves whether or not colleges are discriminating against poorer students, ask ourselves this:

Do we want to murder the rising talent within students by rejecting them simply because they had a good family background?


1 Comment »

  1. Very nicely said. Fellow Asian male. :) I like this blog… quality content.

    Anyway, yeah, I think you make valid arguments, especially the one with temperatures vs. pirates, lol, made me laugh.

    Comment by Yuechen — January 11, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

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